Dream a Little Dream

Social Dreaming Matrix Spring 2020

Every Thursday afternoon from May through mid-June, people from across the world gathered online to share and discuss something we all experience—night-time dreams. Hosted by Duke’s newly formed Laboratory for Social Choreography, housed within the Kenan Institute for Ethics and partially funded by the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute, the aim of the weekly dream-sharing event, or matrix, was to explore the collective unconscious during our current global pandemic.  

“Social Dreaming Matrix: Being and Becoming During the 2020 Crisis” was the initiative of Michael Kliën, Dance Program associate professor, who facilitated the sessions along with the Centre for Social Dreaming in London. The matrixes utilized the widely applied practice of social dreaming to explore deeper ways to listen to and reflect on COVID-19.

What is Social Dreaming?
Photo credit C. Gangos
Photo credit: Christina Gangos

Simply put, social dreaming is a method to explore relationships among individuals through the thoughtful study of their shared dreams. It was created and developed in the 1980s by psychoanalyst Dr. W. Gordon Lawrence and his colleagues at the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations in London. Lawrence believed there were social and political contexts to individuals’ dreams, and through analyzing similar images and themes, social dreaming could explore subconscious ideas or worries that are widely shared—especially during times of global stress.   

Unlike traditional psychoanalysis, social dreaming focuses on the dream, rather than the dreamer. “Studies have shown that in times of crises, groups of unrelated people tend to experience similar dreams and imagery,” Kliën explains. The Social Dreaming Matrix explored the relationships and metaphors of these shared dreams and images as possible ways of rethinking current situations. “The dream wasn't treated as an individual possession interpreted back to the individual, but it became devoid of personal meaning and started acting in a social setting.”

Inside the Matrix

Each matrix began with a brief introduction to social dreaming. Participants were then free to share their dreams, or simply observe. A reflection and an informal discussion followed, where associations and connections were often made.

Antoine Perier
Photo credit: Antoine Perier 

For example, during one matrix, images of trees—dead, alive, giving water and shelter—were one of the central themes that emerged. Kliën wondered why everyone was concerned with trees and a renewed relation to the natural world during this time of crisis. “It felt like the beginning of a longer exploration. Because an individual’s current thought processes were challenged, rather than simplified, in the matrix, it made reality richer and more able to adapt creatively,” he explains. “Some people have called it ‘yoga for thought.’”

Matrix 2.0

While the Social Dreaming Matrix has wrapped up for the summer, Kliën is hopeful to relaunch again in the fall. If you’re hesitant to take part—don’t be. “Social Dreaming isn’t weird, and it isn’t magic. It’s just people stringing dreams together to create new connections and thoughts,” Kliën says. The Social Dreaming Matrix was presented in partnership with the Kenan Institute, the Institute for Social Choreography, the Centre for Social Dreaming, and R.I.C.E. on Hydra.